While there is no set formula for start-up success (otherwise, everyone would be following it), there are certain key ingredients that successful entrepreneurs or founders leverage. These, combined with a healthy dash of luck, can help turn your vision into reality.
1. Solve a problem. This might seem intuitive, or like common sense. But many entrepreneurs make the mistake of getting so caught up in their grandiose ideas that they forget to analyze and test whether their product is really solving some sort of problem. The problem doesn’t have to be significant; in fact, a simple solution to a problem that nobody realizes exists is sometimes the best angle to take. But you must be providing a solution, whether it be a brand new solution or a better take on a solution that already exists.
2. Build the right team. From co-founders to subsequent employees, the right people are critical to your success. Look for people strategically. You want others who complement, rather than match, your skillset. Remember that hiring for attitude is just as important as hiring for skillset (I would argue that you can teach anybody anything; but you can’t teach hunger and commitment). Find the people who are ready and able to commit fully – work long hours, motivate themselves (and you!), and roll up their sleeves to get things done. People who are flexible, able to adapt, and who bring their own ideas to the table.
3. Listen to your potential customers. These people ultimately determine whether you will succeed or fail, so their feedback should be paramount. Understand what they like and what they don’t. Value the criticism, as these comments are the most effective in analyzing what changes should be made. Incent customers to provide feedback and thank them when they do. Don’t be so married to your own ideas that you’re unable to flex to the wants and needs of your target market.
4. Find a trusted mentor or coach. Seek out someone who has been there, done that. This person’s advice will be invaluable as you navigate through the different stages of starting a business. As with your customers, be open to the feedback and willing to change course as necessary to optimize your chances of success.
5. Be passionate. Cliché, but true. Don’t start a business with the goal of selling it. Start a business that you never want to sell, because your belief in the product is embedded so deeply. While following the money may lead to short-term success, following your passion will lead to an ever evolving and growing business that can compound in terms of success while fulfilling your innate desire to contribute in a meaningful way.
6. Launch quickly. Planning is very important. A strong business plan will help guide you, your co-founders, and your employees through the prosperous and difficult times, while keeping your eye on the goal. But many would-be entrepreneurs suffer from analysis paralysis, making the mistake of never being able to move beyond the planning stage because the product or website or marketing strategy is not quite perfect yet. Your goal should instead be to plan thoroughly, but launch quickly, understanding that your product and strategy will (and should) change along the way as the market reacts.
7. Have a purpose. Beyond simply offering a product, have a reason for existing. Think through the value you’re adding to peoples’ lives. Part of this is the problem you’re solving, and part of it is understanding your greater vision for the future. What’s driving you to solve this specific problem? As you grow, are there additional opportunities to offer more solutions or assistance on a larger scale? Will your business be scalable beyond this initial product? Understanding your purpose and vision for the future will help keep you from stagnating as your business grows.
Beyond sharing these characteristics, successful entrepreneurs also have a good grasp on business basics such as funding, sales, and development. But these factors alone don’t create successful companies. It is these combined with the various “soft” factors discussed above – along with some luck – that will ultimately launch your entrepreneurial success.